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Indian, US soldiers jointly learn jungle warfare

Josy Joseph in Vairengte (Mizoram) | April 07, 2004 14:00 IST
Last Updated: April 07, 2004 18:21 IST

Raiding terrorist hideouts, fending for themselves in deep forests and honing firing skills against unconventional targets, some 120 Indian and America soldiers are carrying out the largest ever joint military exercise in the thick jungles of Mizoram.

This is the first joint infantry exercise between the two countries. It began on March 28 and will end on April 16.

It is being held at the sprawling campus of the Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School, a unique military training centre for training soldiers to fight terrorists in natural surroundings. Reputed to be the world's only one in its league, the school has been quietly shaping critical leadership and soldiers of several nations, including Nepal and Sri Lanka, for unconventional warfare.

During the three-week long exercise, the soldiers will train in operating in jungle terrain, in rural and urban centres, hostage rescue, anti-hijacking operations, interrogation, intelligence based tactical operations, combat training, and IED (improvised explosive device) handling, says Brigadier B K Ponwar, commandant of the CIJW School.

One company of soldiers from the 9 Rajput Battalion is participating in the exercise while the US side is represented by one platoon of soldiers from the 2nd Battalion of the First Infantry Regiment of the Alaska-based 172nd Stryker Brigade.

Lt Colonel David Wisecarver, the commanding officer of the US infantry unit, says the exercise is a unique opportunity for the Americans because the 'US doesn't have a jungle warfare school' and his unit would impart the lessons learnt in Mizoram to other soldiers in the US.

The entire exercise employs the 'buddy system' where an Indian and a US soldier are paired for the duration of the exercise. "First, they have to learn to communicate. It appears simple but that is where they start from," says Wisecarver.

For Specialist Moore Shaune, a US soldier who had earlier participated in joint exercises with Japanese troops, the Indian troops are 'real tough chaps'. And as the days pass by, he is able to speak a few lines in Hindi, including "Tum kaise hai?"

Wearing a ballistic glass and holding an MP4 rifle fitted with sophisticated guidance systems, he pats his buddy Sepoy Sabha Prakash Singh, who sports a shy smile and pan stains on his teeth.

This is the first time that such a large number of US and Indian soldiers are holding a joint exercise. Till now, Indo-US joint exercises involved only Special Forces, that too hardly a couple of dozens from each side.

As the two sides expand the scope of the exercises, the level of their joint operability is also picking up. At Vairengte, the two sides are freely using each other's weapons.

US soldiers clutch Indian INSAS rifles and their Indian counterparts carry the American M4 rifles during raids in mock hostage situations and jungle treks.

In the jungle, they are taught among other things to catch wild animals, including snakes, to roast them for a survival meal.

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